The namesake of a large public housing complex in Nashville is being remembered Tuesday for his contributions to health care. John Henry Hale and his wife Millie are being inducted into the Tennessee Health Care Hall of Fame, housed at Belmont University.
The Hales converted the upstairs of their home near Meharry Medical College into a makeshift hospital for black patients who were turned away from white hospitals in the early 1900s. The hospital would soon take over the whole house and officially become the Millie E. Hale Infirmary in 1916. Eventually, the hospital would include 75 beds and treat 4,000 patients, many of whom traveled from neighboring states.
Millie, who was a nurse, ran the operation. John, an accomplished surgeon who conducted 30,000 operations, moonlighted at the hospital while working as a professor at Meharry.
Lurelia Hale Freeman is a Spanish teacher in Atlanta and one of the few living descendants. She's receiving the hall of fame honor on behalf of her great grandparents and says their work remains relevant.
"To say that Hale Hospital was a relic, a thing of the past, I'm not sure — maybe we need to be thinking about whether smaller, culturally based health care facilities are necessary in today's America," Freeman said.
At the time of his death in 1944, an obituary in the Journal of the National Medical Association, described Hale as "unassuming, religiously inclined, moral, temperate, studious." The organization representing black physicians called him "one of the most beloved." He was 62 when he died of heart failure.
The inductees to the Tennessee Health Care Hall of Fame this year also include Matthew Walker, Sr., who started a clinic still in existence on Jefferson Street; Vanderbilt infectious disease expert William Shaffner; Lynn Massingale, founder of Knoxville-based doctor staffing company TeamHealth; Monroe Carell, Jr., namesake of Vanderbilt children's hospital; and Carol Etherington, first nurse for the Davidson County Police Department.